MECHANICSBURG – Like many villages throughout the state, Mechanicsburg is home to several prominent churches. While the members who make up these local congregations don’t share the same religious affiliation, a joint venture – Oasis of Mercy Food Pantry – shows they do share a common belief that no one in the community should go hungry.
Located in St. Michael’s Parish Hall at 40 Walnut St., the pantry opened its doors in April to residents living within the Mechanicsburg Exempted Village School District.
“As a community, we all believe we need to work together, and we all need to help each other and those in need,” said St. Michael’s Parish Council President Scott Spinner, who also serves at president of the Oasis of Mercy Food Pantry Board of Directors.
The eight-member board, he added, is comprised of two representatives from each of the following four local churches: St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the Mechanicsburg United Methodist Church, the Church of Our Saviour Episcopal Church, and the Mechanicsburg Baptist Church.
Open the first and third Tuesdays of every month from 4 to 7 p.m., the food pantry assisted over 30 families during its first month of operation.
“This number is low, but as word gets out, we expect to assist in feeding over 115 families each month,” Spinner said.
He added the board is hopeful that, eventually, it will be able to open the pantry every week and allow those in need throughout the county to use the service if needed, instead of just those within the Mechanicsburg school district.
Besides the residency requirement, Spinner said a valid ID must be presented, and while the pantry is open twice a month, individuals may only use the service once per month.
“We have parameters so we can sustain ourselves and grow,” he said.
Those receiving assistance from the pantry get between 18 and 25 pounds of food each month depending on whether the recipient is an individual, couple or family.
Items regularly distributed include soup, macaroni and cheese, meat, fish, bread, baked goods, pasta, fruits and vegetables.
The majority of these items, Spinner said, are acquired by the pantry through its partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties.
“Without them, we can’t do this,” Spinner said.
Seeing a vision through
Spinner said the idea for the food pantry was brought to his attention four years ago by St. Michael’s parishioner Bill Miller, who along with his wife, Kay, felt the need was present within the community for a program aimed at tackling hunger.
Backed by the support of the parishioners at St. Michael’s and with blessings from Father Larry Gearhart (pastor of the four Catholic parishes in Champaign County) and Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, the St. Michael’s Parish Hall underwent a renovation to accommodate a food pantry.
While the idea for the pantry originated from a couple who attend St. Michael’s and the pantry operates from within the local Catholic church’s parish hall, Spinner reiterated the outreach is a joint venture.
“The food pantry is run and operated by volunteers from the community, not just St. Michael’s,” he said. “Most of them are involved in one of the (four) churches represented on the board, while others are friends who see what we are doing and have donated their time, talents and treasures.”
While renovating the parish hall, St. Michael’s Catholic Church parishioners decided to back an additional project, one that set out to provide a spiritual retreat for the community in addition to the nutritional support being provided through the pantry.
The secondary project involved tearing down the church’s vacant rectory, located between the church and parish hall on Walnut Street, and replacing it with a 20-by-20 prayer grotto.
Designed by local landscape designer Brandon Moore, the new space was unveiled during a dedication ceremony on May 14.
“The prayer grotto is a sanctuary, and everyone is welcome,” Spinner said. “If you need a spot to pray or get away, this is open to you.
“We feel it’s a much better use of our space than a house that was unused,” he added.
To cover the renovation work on the parish hall, demolition of the rectory, and the construction of the prayer grotto, Spinner said the community stepped up to keep costs at a minimum and make both projects a reality.
“It was a $60,000 project that we were able to do for under $24,000 thanks to volunteers, friends and people donating time and equipment,” Spinner said. “God has ordained this entire process. He’s opened doors, and he’s put the right people in the right place at the right time.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.